On an evening when the defining story in college football was the Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo XV charging at Georgia Bulldogs mascot UGA before the Sugar Bowl, head coach Tom Herman’s team maintained that energy throughout the 60 minutes for a dominant 28-21 victory in New Orleans.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger set the Texas record with most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season, surpassing Longhorn Legend Vince Young, as Ehlinger’s three scores on the ground helped key the Longhorns.
Parsing the quality and importance of those scores isn’t a particularly easy task, as every one loomed large.
The Longhorns took the ball first after losing the toss and ran off a 10-play, 75-yard drive that didn’t feature much on the ground, but did show the Horns using checks and shifts before the snap to create favorable matchups.
The biggest play was 3rd and 7 from the Bulldogs 10-yard line. With the Georgia defender playing outside leverage on wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, the breakout junior ran his out route, but then broke back inside. Given a small window, sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger hit Humphrey for the eight-yard gain.
One play later, Ehlinger took the 7-0 lead with a two-yard touchdown run, his 14th of the season to tie Vince Young’s record.
With a 10-0 lead, Texas recovered a fumble by Georgia running back D’Andre Swift before facing a 3rd and 7 from the 9-yard line. Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck dialed up a quarterback draw with graduate transfer running back Tre Watson serving as the lead blocker and Ehlinger found the end zone for a huge touchdown early in the second quarter; this time, to capture the Texas quarterback rushing touchdown record.
A 14-play, 70-yard drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters extended that lead and undeniably established the tone in New Orleans — Ehlinger hit junior wide receiver Collin Johnson for a huge 35-yard gain down the sideline. On 3rd and 10 from the Georgia 11-yard line, Ehlinger picked up a first down and finally scored after four efforts near the goal line.
The defense was phenomenal as well, as coordinator Todd Orlando took advantage of his preparation time by deepening his rotation and substituting more frequently against a Georgia offense that doesn’t normally play at tempo. Texas only gave up 6.2 yards per pass and 2.4 yards per rush as the Longhorns won the physical battle at the point of attack.
The Bulldogs scored a late touchdown, but still finished with the program’s lowest point total of the season and the lowest total yardage of the season.
“We pride ourselves on being one of the most physical teams in the country,” Texas senior tight end Andrew Beck last week. “This will be a game for us to step out and prove that. There is a lot of talk on conference comparisons, and the Sugar Bowl is going to be a great chance for Texas football to showcase and show the nation what we are capable of doing.”
Texas won on both sides of the ball, racking up 178 rushing yards and 71 more total yards than head coach Kirby Smart’s team.
When the Texas defense stymied Georgia on its second third down following the touchdown to open the game, senior defensive end Charles Omenihu made his presence known to star Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm.
Charles Omenihu says "HELLO" to Jake Fromm. pic.twitter.com/PXkSvUDiAj— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) January 2, 2019
The pressures dialed up by Orlando helped keep Fromm off balance all game, as Fromm missed multiple opportunities and threw a crippling interception to start the second half. On that play, senior linebacker Anthony Wheeler got to Fromm on a blitz when the Bulldogs offensive line failed to set the protection correctly.
Fromm finished with 6.2 yards per attempt, three touchdowns, and one interception in a game that he played even more poorly than this stat line indicated.
Texas missed some opportunities throughout the game, but Georgia never led and never threatened to take the lead — this was the most complete performance of the season for the Longhorns against an opponent that was favored by 18.3 points by S&P+.
So when Ehlinger said that Texas was back after the game in an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, it was hard to deny.
Honing in on the 2019 potential for this team is a difficult task with decisions looming from players like Johnson, Humphrey, and junior safety Brandon Jones. At this moment, however, none of that is nearly as important as the statement the Horns made to the country tonight.
Texas is back.